As a former employee of The Mining Journal and a 2008 graduate of Northern Michigan University, I spent almost six years living in Marquette. In May I left the familiarity of the Midwest to venture to the east coast.
I am serving one year in the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America program. I'm a full-time volunteer, receiving a bi-monthly stipend that averages out to lower than minimum wage if you do the math.
I am spending my year as a resource developer for the nonprofit Rockingham District Partners In Ministry.
VISTA's purpose is to fight poverty and build capacity through an organization. That means it's my job to increase what the organization is capable of. I'm doing this through fundraising, grant writing, recruiting, public relations, and opening a resource and referral Center, in Gibson, North Carolina.
The poverty in this rural region, Scotland County, is almost unimaginable. Religion is prevalent. It was pointed out to me that the more impoverished a neighborhood is, the more churches there are.
Let me paint you a picture. As I drive to Gibson every morning at 8:45 a.m., I drive by four churches. I pass by a white-washed cotton mill and the "swimming pool" in the town of Springfield - a couple of wooden benches on the bank of a small pond on the side of the road. On my drive home it will be swarmed with children and adults splashing in the muddy water, grilling and socializing in the 90 degree heat. I pass some horses, goats and a farm with misspelled signs: "berrys for sale" and "peas u pick." After about a 12-minute drive, I arrive in Gibson, population about 550.
The men at the corner service station sit in the shade of the garage, gathering with the hood of a car popped up behind them. An old wooden shelf sits in a yard with colorful flowers poking out of red plastic cups with a sign stating that the proceeds go towards the poor. I drive by the tiny post office, town hall and fire station. I cross the railroad tracks. On the left there is a two-pump gas station. On the right is the rubble of Scotland Stop and Shop. Its roof is caving in from a fire it never recovered from. The next street is Church Street, where the center is nestled. If I didn't turn there, I'd reach the South Carolina state line a few blocks further.
According to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 25 percent of individuals and families in Scotland County live below the poverty level. Our organization also serves Robeson County, where the poverty level tops 25 percent and Richmond County where it is more than 20 percent. In comparison, about 8 percent of Marquette County families are below the poverty level.
Our center in Gibson will empower people who need it most in these counties. The center will have computers with Internet access. Online resources are endless and many doors are closed to those without access.
A child may use the center to write a history paper; an unemployed mother may use it to create a resume and search for jobs online; a high school student may use it to research colleges and careers. Computer programs will offer help for tax filing, filling out forms for food stamps, and making a budget.
The center will also house a variety of books, pamphlets and brochures for visitors to use.
Beyond these resources, the center will serve as a gathering place for the communities. Instead of being on the streets, youth will be able to come to the center to plan events with the organization's help. As their ideas flourish, they'll see that they have the power to create their own fun.
Tutoring, counseling and mentoring will take place at the center along with a Teen Closet, food pantry, community garden, GED classes and events for seniors. Center users will be asked to volunteer their time, essentially making it their center.
People living in poverty can't be empowered if they don't have access to resources.
Please consider donating to this program. North Carolina may seem worlds away from the U.P., but I hope you can find it in your heart to reach out to the impoverished people of this rural area.
The organization is nonprofit, so donations can be tax-deductable. Checks or in-kind donations may be mailed to: Rockingham District Partners In Ministry, P.O. Box 422, Gibson, North Carolina 28343. Credit card donations may be made online at www.rdpim.org. I can be contacted at Julia.Woehrer@rdpim.org or 910-268-4688.